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    This past Weekend, the Minnesota MTB YouTube Channel headed up to Central Minnesota to check out what Cayuna has to offer in the winter. Is it just as fun as in the summer? Find out in this latest video.


    Ryan Stephens learned to shoot outdoor adventure photography in the middle of the night while capturing the stunning northern lights. A regular photographer for The Marji Gesick, Polar Roll, and The Crusher, Ryan shares his story in today's interview. Ryan Stephens is a photographer living in Marquette, Michigan. He specializes in shooting action sports and nature and is the Photo & Video Director at Northern Michigan University. Photos: Ryan Stevens Photo @ryanstephensphoto You’ve photographed Marji Gesick, The Crusher, and Polar Roll. Have you ever actually biked any of Todd’s events? I will happily go camping when it’s -40, but I’m still not crazy enough to race any of Todd’s events. Plus then I would miss out on photographing them! What’s your background and how did you choose photography? My Dad passed down his love for biking to me at an early age. He would take me to the local trails, dirt jumps or skatepark and we would often take pictures of each other to see how much (or little) air we would get on the jumps. Before long I felt the need to document the silly things my friends and I would do around town and on a jump in my backyard. I would use a little point and shoot but I found the limitations of that pretty quickly. My parents bought me my first DSLR, a Canon Rebel, for my high school graduation gift and I brought that camera to college which is when I really discovered my love for photography. How did you learn outdoor adventure photography? When I was getting started I just got outside with my camera as much as possible because I loved it and it was just another excuse to play outside. Getting into specifics and technique came along later. In the digital age it doesn't cost anything to learn by trial and error and leaves no excuses to just practice and practice. I noticed that I didn't see much night photography online, so I decided to focus on that, and for a long time that was all I did. Many nights after class and work my friends would go out on the town while I would drive to the middle of nowhere shooting the stars all night.I would check for northern lights nearly every night, and when I found them I would shoot until 4 or 5am often in sub-zero temps and still find a way to make it to my 8am class. After you master your camera shooting in the dark with freezing hands and dying batteries, every other shooting situation becomes much simpler. Through social media I eventually gained a small amount of local recognition which opened opportunities to work with some great local professional photographers who helped me learn so much about not only the craft, but the directing and business side of photography as well. The U.P. has an iconic reputation. What is it about the land and people that give it such an adventurous spirit? The U.P. is a beautiful, yet rugged place to live. Lake Superior and the surrounding landscapes are extremely unique and provide opportunities for adventure, but also bring isolation and rough weather. It takes a certain resilience to make a life here and the people that do are often the ones who embrace winter and know how to make the most of it. The adventurous spirit thrives here and this small community understands the importance of being active outside and the happiness it brings. Do you get cold shooting hundreds of active fat bikers while you stand still in the snow? My shooting style while on an event like the Polar Roll is actually very active which helps me stay warm in the winter. I make it a point to move around the course as much as possible to capture as many racers in different locations, climbing trees to get different angles, and flopping around with snowshoes to get a unique photograph of as many participants as possible. My family often joke about how many jackets I own, but being an outdoor photographer in the U.P. makes you realize quickly that you need good gear. Being able to focus on your job instead of your survival makes a big difference in the end result of a shoot day. What do you shoot with? Canon R6 with my main lenses being the Canon 16-35, 50, and 70-200. What kind of biking do you do? A big reason I moved to the U.P. was because of the phenomenal terrain here. Mountain biking is one of my favorite things to do while not behind the lens and I feel fortunate to have one of the best trail systems in the midwest a mile from my house. To see more of Ryan Stephens' work, follow him on Instagram or check out his landscape print galleries and race coverage.


    Part 2: This winter, Matt Acker needed an epic bike adventure. Bringing along a few fellow 45NRTH riders, he hit the southern shore of Lake Superior from Whitefish Point to Grand Marais. To read Part 1 of the bike adventure, visit Photos: Neil Washburn Follow along for the full story and stay tuned for Part 3 coming later in February.


    Mark Scotch, an endurance athlete, met a stranger in a bar and offered him his kidney. Most people don't realize the critical need for kidney donations or that 13 people die every day waiting for a kidney. Read this story and interview with Mark to learn about his heroic generosity and how he continues to live a life full of adventure and physical activity. The Arrowhead 135 is considered one of the 50 hardest races on earth. It is a human powered endurance event taking place during the coldest part of winter in the coldest place in the United States. Mark Scotch's story has caught media attention and inspired many people. His project, "The Organ Trail", chronicles his health journey as well as his endurance adventures. Head to his blog to read his full race report. All photos by Jamison Swift unless otherwise noted. You “retired” from races like Arrowhead 135 and Tuscobia Ultra but you did them both this winter. WHY? Back in the winter of 2019/2020 I had completed Tuscobia 160 on skis between Christmas and New Year. I then completed The Arrowhead 135 in late January 2020 using a kicksled. This was the final discipline that qualified me for the a'trois award, doing the AHU by bike, ski and foot (kicksled is included in the foot category). I had also completed the AHU unsupported on bike in 2018, so I thought it was time to give up my roster spot and let someone else take a crack at The Arrowhead. My wife and I were both retired so after Arrowhead 2020 we took off to escape the rest of our midwest winter heading southwest towards Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Along the way we stopped in Natchitoches, Louisiana for the night. That's when I met Hugh Smith, found out he needed a kidney and I offered him one of mine. During the process of learning what I needed to do to donate for Hugh, I read that 13 people die in the United States every day waiting for a kidney transplant. Neither my wife nor I knew that and for some reason it hit me. I rather quickly came to the conclusion that there are probably thousands if not millions of people able to donate that don't know about the need and maybe they would be willing to donate a kidney to save someone's life if they did. I decided to start The Organ Trail: A Kidney Donation Journey, to create awareness about the urgent and dire need for donors AND to demonstrate that a healthy person that qualified could donate a kidney, probably save someone's life, and then go back to the lifestyle they had pre-donation surgery. In my case that prompted me to come out of "retirement" and do both the Tuscobia 160 and the Arrowhead 135 in the winter of 2020/2021 on one kidney. Covid canceled the 2020/2021 races so I had to wait until winter of 2021/2022, at age 66, to do them. I finished both events, with one kidney and didn't experience any ill effects. Tell me about Arrowhead 135. Highs, lows, and did you finish? With the warm temps forecasted for Arrowhead 2022 I was excited to not have to deal with the -10 to -20 degree temps we had to handle just a few weeks earlier at the Tuscobia 160. I started out feeling quite well, eating and drinking into the first checkpoint at the Gateway store. I knew, once again, that this was going to be my last Arrowhead, so like at Tuscobia earlier in the month, I stopped and "enjoyed" the opportunities to rest a bit, socialize with as many racers and volunteer friends as possible during the race and at the checkpoints. I think I was in 13th place or so coming into Gateway. I had a bowl of soup and some hot chocolate and took off in 20 minutes or so. I knew I had to keep my calorie count up so I tried picking up the pace and began eating more frequently. With one kidney, water consumption was a much bigger concern for me than in years past, so I also was very grateful that with the warm temps accessing my camelback tube was easy and there was really no danger of dealing with a frozen tube. All was good.....but I did start to realize that my desire to eat was not really what my throat and stomach had in mind. As time went on, it became obvious that getting food down was going to be an issue. I slowed my pace some to try to relieve the stress on my body but it apparent that I was going into some serious calorie deficit. About 7 miles from Melgeorges Shalane Frost, the women skier from Alaska, came up from behind me and passed me as I was walking up a hill. She stopped at the top and pulled her backpack off and was grabbing some food and water when I came up to her. She looked at her GPS and smiled broadly as she stated "1/2 way there". I smiled back and offered, that no, Melgeroges is 1/2 way. She took a 2nd look at her Garmin gave a quizzical look at it and me as she restated, "no, 1/2 of 135 miles is..." and as she was doing the math I broke in and asked, "Is this your first Arrowhead?" to which she replied "yes". I said, "I'm not the skier you are, for sure, I can tell that, but I've skied this twice before, trust me on this one, just figure Melgeorge's is 1/2 way". Shalane seemed like a very humble, thoughtful and confident person, respecting the opinion/advice of someone that has covered the distance before, and slowly nodded her head as she repositioned her backpack back on and took off. I ran into Shalane a bit later, almost literally, when just a few miles down the trail she surprised me by skiing towards me. She had come to a Y in the trail and had taken the correct, right turn, but she had turned around after a while thinking that she had taken the wrong fork in the trail. I said, no, you're going the right way. She stated she had not noticed any bike tracks for a distance and felt the left fork must be the correct one. I gently corrected her by saying, no, she had gone the correct way and that maybe some snowmobiles had come by and wiped out any bike tracks. Luckily she trusted me and we both took off, to turn left down the trail onto the lake. I was 6 minutes behind her into Melgeorges, the 1/2 way checkpoint. As a xc skier, I rather marveled at her form and strength. Having watched her glide down the trail and across the lake, I was rather surprised she hadn't caught me much earlier! Even on the soft, mushy snow, she barely sunk in as she kicked, poled and glided her way down the trail. Shalane not only obliterated the women's record, which Kate Coward had totally smashed a couple of years earlier, Shalane now has the record ski time for both women and men. Fantastic! My wife Lynn met me at the far side of the lake. She didn't say anything till after the race, but she said I looked pretty messed up. We hugged goodbye as she headed off to the Casino at the Finish Line and I headed inside the checkpoint. By this time I hadn't eaten much if anything for the past couple of hours, maybe longer. I got into the checkpoint and was offered wild rice soup and grilled cheese and I selected chocolate milk as a drink. The milk went down fine, the soup was ok, but after just one bite of the grilled cheese everything threatened to come back up to see daylight if I ignored the message my stomach was telling me. I tried to relax some, drank a bit more milk, got another bowl of soup, but even that was giving me that funny feeling you get right before a hurl. So, I knew what I had to do. I trekked on over to the Tamarack cabin, carrying my 1/4 eaten grilled cheese, untouched 2nd bowl of soup, and one more cup of hot chocolate. I laid down immediately and barely heard fellow racer Bob Hingtgen come in and do the same. I fell asleep so fast I didn't even set an alarm. After about an hour I woke up, warmed up the soup and sammy, and viola! Down they went. Bob got up as well and after getting our drop bags settled we signed out......but only after I asked the volunteer to text my wife to pick me up at any road crossing necessary to make our 2:30pm flight out of MPLS Tuesday afternoon. I wasn't sure when I'd finish at this point and we had a plane to catch. Bob and I took off, catching riders as we went. Bob ended up breaking his chain, but I hadn't noticed him drop back. He caught me past the hills 3 miles or so before the Embark (3rd) Checkpoint, I had stopped to talk to Todd Gabrielson, our snowmobile angel, to notify him of a biker that had bivied 10 feet off of the trail back in the hills which signals that they might need some help. I had some orange slices Bob and I shared and had put down as much food as I could, which included a few Gu blocks and some regular Gu. Bob and I came into the checkpoint both calorie starved. I was able to squeeze down 2 Embark syrups, (man, that Coffee Syrup was tasing great about then!) and we took off. The trail was solid and I knew I could hammer it, even with not many calories, as long as I kept my electrolyte levels up so cramping wouldn't occur. I had been popping Hammer Endurpolytes and drinking water, so I just tried to ignore my muscles and get on with it. I was hoping to see Lynn at the finish line and not at any of the up coming road crossings this close to the end. It wasn't long before we came upon another rider and he was admittedly tired and having some issues. He wanted to hang with us, so I suggested he tuck in behind Bob and we took off. I just decided to move out solo if needed at the max speed I could muster. Luckily, I got the finish before Lynn cut me off and I pulled in feeling pretty dang good considering. Retired......again! How do you feel pushing your body like this after donating a kidney? I feel really good that I was able to finish a very tough Tuscobia 160 in the cold temps and also Arrowhead, although not as competitively as I'd have liked, but still respectfully. I actually wanted to push my body to be confident when telling people that yes, one can donate a kidney and truly go back to what they were doing pre-donation. My main concern really wasn't my "body" but more making sure I took in enough water to give Lefty (my remaining kidney) the best opportunity to function at the highest level possible while filtering my blood. An interesting fact is that 1 out of 750 people are born with only 1 kidney and generally never even know it until later in life. Kidneys in a healthy person function at less than 100% each so if only one is left, the slack can be picked up by the remaining kidney. The remaining kidney will actually grow in size in many cases as well, to increase its capability. To learn more about kidney donation, visit the National Kidney Donation Organization. Visit The Organ Trail to see more of Mark Scotch's journey and follow along on the adventure.


    Brian Davis just raced the Snow Bully fat bike race at Iola Winter Sports club. It is a gorgeous area with rolling hills and perfect Wisconsin country charm. There is normally no fatbiking on the Iola club trails, but for this event which is part of the Iola Winter Carnival they got to tear it up! Brian Davis is the inventor of Fix It Sticks, Backbottle and The Weatherneck System and creator of Fo//ow Ho//ow Performance Alpaca brand. On his YouTube Channel he discusses race tactics and strategies to be a faster, fitter and smarter cyclist.


    Caden Budd just won the first ever US Fat Bike Open in the Elite category in January. In this this story, he shares his race day recap and how he got the top spot on the podium. At just 15 years old, Caden shares what the race meant to him and what challenges he's looking forward to next. The Inaugural US Fat Bike Open is a Wiscosin fatbike race that took place at the Green Bay Country Club on January 22, 2022. It was the second of four races in the Broken Spoke Snow Crown Series. Over 220 fat bike riders braved the frozen tundra for the race. Story by Caden Budd The first ever US Fat Bike Open took place on January 21, 2022, and it was AWESOME. With all the energy floating around that day and the days leading up to the race, you could tell that this was going to be a big race now and years to come. Event organizers George and Sarah Kapitz had only a month to get everything ready, it turned out amazing. With more time and some possible cash prize sponsors in the future, the goal is to make this a big event with people from all over the country to come and race. Race Day Preparation For me, preparation started the Wednesday before. I wasn’t going to be able to pre-ride on Saturday, so I figured that the Wednesday group ride there would have to do. The course could not have been any more perfect that day, as I like to say, It was like riding on a highway. For those of you new to Fat Bike riding or racing use to plowing snow that means really fast. I was really nervous as to how the race was going to go. There was something about this race that lit a fire in me to want to win it. Wednesday’s ride was the only day that week that I felt like my legs were not sore and I could really ride hard. My legs felt like garbage Monday and Tuesday. I joked with my mom I was hanging it up at 15 and retiring. Saturday arrived, I was up at 5:30 and at the course by 6:30. It takes a crew to put on a race. Working for Broken Spoke Bike Shop event organizers and sponsor, I was accountable to help set up. Once we got everything set up for the day, I went to get changed. Mens Elite and Advanced was the first race. I had just enough time to squeeze in a lap before the race to check out how much the course has changed. There were snow drifts starting to build up, and I had to drop my tire pressure. I let out some air until I had 5 psi in my tires. There would be no highway riding. Just in time for the start It was taking a lot longer than I thought to get ready, and soon enough I had only 5 minutes until race start, and everybody was already in the starting corral. I was just getting down there, and was lucky enough to be let up to the front row. I felt amazing on the first lap of the race. I was sitting in fourth for the first half lap, until I moved up to second before the big hill. After the hill, it was just the two of us. My father, Mike Budd, and I were off the front, and it would stay that way for the rest of the race. During the race, I did not feel strong. Every little incline I felt like if he pushed it just a little harder, I would pop off his wheel and have no shot at winning. I couldn’t let him see any sign of weakness or he would take advantage of the opportunity. Fortunately he did spot weakness and take off, and I was able to hang on for the entire race. Calculating moves on the last quarter mile With about a quarter mile to go, I messed up going around a corner and a gap opened up in between us. It stayed like this for a couple hundred feet. Luckily for me, some lappers just got into a skinny section of the trail just before we could pass them, so I was able to catch back up to my father. To win you need to be strategic and know when to make moves. I started my sprint early and got around him just before the last corner. All I had to do was not crash and I would take the win. My approach worked. I managed to win the first ever US Fat Bike Open in the Elite Category. There are some awesome WI and MI racers that come out. We push one another to be our best and have a great time racing and hanging out after. After the adrenaline settled down, I was able to reflect. All I could think about was how lucky I was. There were so many scenarios where I would have easily lost, and it went perfect. Thanks to George Kapitz for having the vision to create a cycling community and for putting on the best Fat Bike Races in Wisconsin. Thanks to Team Broken Spoke for being incredible teammates. Special Thanks to my parents for enabling me to discover and pursue racing. Up next: winter goals What’s next for me this winter? My two big races are Fat Bike Birkie in Cable, Wis. and Polar Roll in Ishpeming, MI. My goal is to finish top 3 for both short races. Being only 15, I have a few years to master the short course before I can compete on the long course. I also have the rest of the Snow Crown Series, which I am striving to win the overall in Elite. Here is my question for you…what are your plans this year? Whether you are thinking about trying it out, just bought a bike, or an experienced rider, come check out all the great Fat Bike racing in northern Wisconsin and the upper Midwest. There’s nothing like enjoying the winter on two wheels pedaling in the brisk air. Better yet, when you fall there’s no road rash. To learn more about the US Fat Bike Open and the Snowcrown Series presented by Broken Spoke Bikes, visit .


    This winter, Matt Acker needed an epic bike adventure. Bringing along a few fellow 45NRTH riders, he hit the southern shore of Lake Superior from Whitefish Point to Grand Marais. To read Part 1 of the adventure, visit Photos: Neil Washburn Follow along for the full story and stay tuned for Part 2 coming later in February.


    The 2021 Day Across Minnesota (DAMn) marked the end of a much loved endurance gravel cycling event. In this event recap from last summer, Chris Nelson shares his play-by-play race as well as how he ended up deciding to do the event on a Surley Pugsley fatbike. Day Across Minnesota is a ride that started in 2017 and closed the final chapter in 2021. The challenge is to traverse 240 miles of Minnesota gravel roads by bicycle in a single day from Gary, SD to Hager City, WI. Story: Chris Nelson Photos: Markman Outdoor Photography & TMB Images The DAMn (Day Across Minnesota) first became a race in 2017. I was interested in riding this first year, but I was honestly scared that I had what it takes for this epic challenge and I didn't sign up. After seeing the 2017 DAMn ride reports, I committed myself to training and gearing up for the adventure, and I was rewarded with a successful 2018 DAMn. After the 2018 DAMn, I felt no need for another DAMn ... but a few months later, the 2019 DAMn was announced and I signed up again and was able to became a DAMn Champion a second time. I signed up for the 2020 DAMn, but the pandemic forced me to take a rain-check which rolled into 2021 ... The Final DAMn. For some perspective on completing The DAMn, during the open ceremony video, Erik shared these stats: 409 riders have become DAMn champions from 2017 through 2020; 329 of them have completed the DAMn one time; 60 have done it twice; 15 riders have complete three; and 5 have finished every DAMn year! Fatbiking the DAMn When the 2021 DAMn was announced, I posed the question: do I ride my gravel bike and go for my fastest time; or ride my Pugsley to go for the fastest fatbike ... Trenton (The DAMn creator) encouraged me to go fat, and that's all it took! The DAMn has challenged me to push myself into the unknown. Having completed the ride twice on a typical gravel bike (Breezer Radar Pro), riding a fatbike brought me back into the unknown. My longest day with the Pugsley was 140 miles, and that was a rough day that left me crushed. I've spent countless hours over the last 8 months getting the Pugsley and my body ready for this challenge. My drop-bar Pugsley (AKA The War Rig) was created in 2016 with the help of Kyle when he worked at The Alt. This bike is a 2015 Surly Pugsley that's mostly stock, with Salsa Woodchipper handlebars, Gevenalle GX shifters, and Fat B Nimble tires (riding with tubes - the Marge Lite rims are not tubeless compatible). Over the last few years the crew at Tonka Cycle & Ski have been taking care of this beast. In preparation for the 2021 DAMn, Tyler at Tonka got the Pug ready with a mostly new drivetrain and other tweaks and adjustments. In addition to the work Tonka did on the bike. I met with Paulie at GO PHYSIO for an body analysis and bike fit. We focused on dialing in the Pugsley for comfort and efficiency for the long day. Also, Paulie has a custom bike trainer in his studio that will fit a fatbike tire, which is really cool! In the months leading up to the race, I did many training rides, focused on building endurance. This included racing the Freedhem 76 and winning as the fastest fatbike; this result was very encouraging. Additionally, two weeks before The DAMn, I invited some DAMn friends (Rene, Dan, Arik & Robb) for a night training ride. We met up at midnight to ride the Luce Line from Plymouth to Hutchinson and back (3 of us started in Hopkins for some bonus miles). It was a very basic course, with little challenges in route or climbs, but great test of lighting and ways to stay awake/alert all night. The DAMn COVID For the first three years of The DAMn, there were three assigned check points on the course: mile 60; mile 120; and mile 186. These were the only places your support crew could meet you for fresh water, food, bike maintenance, etc. In 2020, this changed in reaction to COVID-19 and restrictions on group sizes, and the organizers allowed riders and crews to pick their three support stops along the route. I worked with Lisa to pick general locations and gave her final say on the exact place to meet. I picked Morton at mile 86; Henderson at mile 151; and Cannon Falls at mile 214 (this became Spring Garden/White Rock at mile 222). Additionally, this change required releasing the whole route in advance of the race. On the first three years of The DAMn, riders would navigate with cue sheets, and you'd only get enough cue sheets to get you to the next check point. I was so happy that 2021 riders were officially allowed to use a GPS device with the route, that really helps to avoid wasting time and energy with missed turns. The DAMn Eve It won't be The DAMn eve without a last minute panic. On a short ride with Lisa Friday morning, my rear brake started making an awful noise. I went straight to Tonka Cycle & Ski and Brett got Pugsley right on the stand, confirmed that retaining spring broke ... And the pads were shot. I am so happy this happened at home and not in Gary (or on the way to Hager City)! Also so grateful for the outstanding support from Tonka! I spent most of the afternoon packing the car with all our gear, food, and supplies. We decided to drop off our three dogs for boarding as we left town, so I needed enough space for the dogs and their gear too. Gary to Morton We arrived in Gary with a little daylight left to allow us time to set up my bike and create space in the back of the car for Lisa's sleeping bag. We also had time to catch up with so many friends around the Buffalo Ridge resort. As it approached midnight, riders started to gather for the start. As I was talking with Birchwood teammate Nick, last year's top finisher (Chase) rolled up and down the street with a bike that look more like a pro time-trail bike than a gravel bike, and his wheels made the most intimidating noise rolling over the fresh chipseal on the street. Chase and I were clearly going to have a very different rides! The roll out is always fun with the fireworks signaling the start of the race and a short neutral roll out on the paved highway, then we make a right turn on to the first narrow gravel road. The pace is always fast with lots of pent-up energy. The early roads were soft, it felt like beach sand under your tires, they were some of the worst gravel roads I can remember riding (2017 Westside Dirty Benjamin is the only other one that comes to mind). Pacelines were forming, I got into a group of 30 to 40 riders. We were fast, averaging 19 mph, but it was stressful in the dark with the loose gravel causing riders to lose control. Add to that the cloud of dust and constant peppering with small gravel kicked up by tires. I went to the front for a long pull to avoid the dust and not worry about somebody wrecking in front of me. I know the riders behind appreciated it, so it was a win-win, but there's was only so long I could keep up that kinda effort. When I fell off the front, I tried riding in the line for a couple minutes and hated it. I made the excuse that I needed a pee-stop (and I kinda did). After that I rode solo or with smaller groups. I was very happy to have my fatbike to ride these soft sandy roads. I would have had a difficult time handling a normal gravel bike in these conditions, slowing me down and stressing me out. It was a cold night, my Garmin was reporting 46℉ over night, and not just a little dip, but from 1:45 to 7:30 AM! I've checked with other riders and their devices were recording the same temps. Through most of the night, I wasn't able to get at my bottles or food with the fast pace and the loose conditions. It was good to roll into my first support stop around 5:30 in Morton to get a couple ham & cheese buns. It took longer to get out of Morton than I'd hoped and I started getting the shivers - it's a good thing I kept my vest on! Morton to Henderson These were fast and uneventful miles, the cool morning helped keep the legs feeling fresh. Road conditions improved, making it easy to grab food and bottles. Shortly after sunrise, I got into a good group that was a core of two single-speed riders, one with a standard gravel bike, and me with Pugsley. This group would grow and shrink over the miles, but this core group of four of us worked together for more miles that I can count. We were keeping our average pace around 16 mph, and that felt GREAT ... sadly, I knew that pace couldn't last. Our core group started to splinter a little after the classic check point 2 (mile 120) as we all had different locations for our support stops. I was planning a longer break in Henderson (mile 151) to get some whole food, lube the chain, reload on-bike supplies. It went smooth and was a great way to refresh and recover energy for the hard miles ahead with rolling road and the heat from the midday sun. I was happy and shocked to leave Henderson just after 11:00, well ahead of my personal record pace. Henderson to White Rock Leaving Henderson, you cross the river and immediately go into a rough single-track trail. The single-track started with sandboxes and down trees that required dismounting and to lift the bike over them ... oof that fully loaded Pugsley is HEAVY! In the single-track section, I passed Nick getting footage for the documentary ... I'm excited to see what he's doing with this year's ride! I was one of a small number of riders able to ride most of this trail, the Pugsley's tires gave plenty of float over the sand and rough trail conditions. The next rapid-fire challenge coming out of Henderson is my least favorite climb on this course, it's just kicks up to 8% to 9% and stays there for so long. Around mile 155, I saw another fatbike, this was on the only other fatbiker I saw all day. We rode together for many miles, talking about bikes and other races. After a while, one of the riders I worked with in the morning caught up to us. I grabbed his wheel and the three of us worked together for a while; I looked back after a pull on the front to see the other fatbike had fallen off. Then the other rider got to his support stop ... and I had some long, lonely solo miles. It felt like there were no other riders around me. I was starting to suffer the heat load of the sun and the many miles. My pace was slowing mile-by-mile, slowing to 10 to 12 mph. Rolling across Hwy 52 south of Cannon Falls, I knew another infamous climb was just around the corner. This one isn't that bad, but with the heat and hurting legs ... it fells very mean. Dan (Birchwood teammate that joined my night training ride) caught up to me, it was nice to talk with a familiar face for a few miles. He made a support stop at a friends farm, right at the bottom of another climb. I think if I'd joined him at that stop, it'd been the end of my DAMn ... I was just so tired and looking at that climb as the first thing after you get started again, I knew I needed to keep moving. Lisa had a hard time finding a place to meet me in Cannon Falls and moved 8 miles further east than we had planned. It was a terrible thing and a great thing all at the same time. I had 222 miles behind me as I rolled into the stop planning to be quick, dropping off the CamelBak and exchanging water bottles; but I collapsed into a chair after damned near falling off my bike. I was in a deep hole with heat exhaustion, I was light headed and nearly passed out. Lisa was quick with wet towels and cold drinks. There was a moment when I wasn't sure I'd be able to get back on the bike, but Lisa nursed me back to healthy. It was 5:30, and I'd spent 35 minutes in the shade of our SUV recovering, before I was able to remount the Pugsley. White Rock to Hager City Riding out of my check point 3, I was refreshed and riding lighter/cooler without the CamelBak and sunsleeves/legs, plus the temps were starting to slide back down. The last support stop being further up the road than I planned had the benefit of shortening the last leg for the ride. I had 20 miles to get to the finish, in my mind, I'm thinking this is just a lunch ride, I do 20 miles nearly every day, no big deal! It also helps that this miles are mostly down hill. I was watching my Garmin's ETA for the finish, it was holding around 6:40, 20 minutes ahead of my personal record. It was odd that I thought I was totally alone on the road for many miles after Cannon Falls, I rode with a many riders on the last miles into Red Wing, including some familiar faces. Riding into Red Wing is a nice break with mostly easy descents allow you to cover the miles with little effort. Also, you get into tree covered roads, helping the body continue to recover from the afternoon's heat. I made my only route error in Red Wing, I was enjoying the sights and missed that we turned a couple blocks earlier that in years past. The new/earlier turn routed us onto the new river bridge, opened in 2020. The new bridge includes a protected bike/ped crossing ... SO NICE! As I crossed the river bridge, my Garmin battery gave up and it shut down. Annoying, but I could see the finish line from here and didn't need it to guide me any more. Finish Line When I posed the question: should I ride for my personal best time or go for fastest fatbike? I thought I was asking and either-or question, I didn't expect 'all of the above' was an option ... But I finished as the fastest fatbike and took 16 minutes of my best DAMn time. When Trenton gave me a finish line hug, he informed me that I was the first fatbike, adding that that's my thing now. I guess I'm gonna have to claim it, I am a fast fatbike-gravel rider. The finish line moved since I last rode in 2019, now a short distance further and in a shady park-like area. It felt so nice to be in a cool shady space, cheering for riders in as they arrived. This year was the first time I felt like I could enjoy a finish line beer! And a bonus, somebody had a bunch a pizza he could eat and gave me a few pieces ... that was a little heaven, beer and pizza in a shady chair! The finish area was a great place to share stories with friends I've known for years, and some I'd just met. Nick was filming lots of footage at the finish line, at one point I looked back to see he has his camera behind my calf tattoo filming a big group coming in to the finish. I hope that make his documentary! It was awe-inspiring to watch riders get back on their bikes and start the return trip to Gary, SD chasing the unimaginable Double DAMn. I have so many mixed emotions about the Final DAMn. I'm so grateful for the opportunities to challenge myself on this ride three times. I'm feeling sad that there won't be another DAMn, on the other hand, I feel a need to move on to other races and challenges. The DAMn demands so much time and energy, it becomes that one pinnacle ride for my year, I can't fit more than one ride of this scale into my year. I'm hopeful that Trenton will bring a new challenge to us gravel nuts. I'm also happy to know that I'll continue to see my gravel family at upcoming events ... and that's what I love most about these rides, these stone-cold crazies that are the family of gravel! Statistics I was 79th place of 231 finishers with an official time was 18:42:49. For reference, the fastest fatbike in 2017 was Bal Singh at 17:26; in 2018 Bal finished in 19:30; in 2019 Jake Cohen finished in 19:22 In the Final DAMn, 563 racers signed up, 393 made it to the starting line, 231 became DAMn Champions by crossing the Hager City, Wisconsin finish line 242 miles later, and then there are the incredible 11 who became Double DAMn Champions by crossing the Gary, South Dakota finish line 495 miles later! Thank you for the support: To start with, I'd like to thank everyone I will forget ... 'cause I'm bad like that Trenton, Erik, Joel, and countless others that created, organized, hosted, and made this DAMn ride a reality. I was humbled be the number of folks on bikes and along the road that cheered me on by name! I recognized many of you ... but there were too many that I couldn't figure out, sorry! Having the course public brought something totally new and enjoyable: FANS! There were support crews and farms along nearly the whole route cheering riders on, it truly lifted my spirits. Thank you! Thank you to Paulie at GO PHYSIO for the great bike fit, I was as comfortable and efficient as possible for a 242-mile day on a Pugsley. Tonka Cycle & Ski: Tyler and Brett both helped me have the Pugsley ready its longest day ever. TMB Images and Markman Outdoor Photography for capturing the good, the bad, and the ugly that is The DAMn Saving the most important for last: I have to say THANK YOU again and again to my best friend, Lisa! For the third time, she drove back-and-forth across the state, through the dark & cold night, the blazing heat of the day, and going without sleep for 40+ hours to chase my DAMn ride. There are riders that complete this ride without support; however, my success has always been a team effort with Lisa play a critical role supporting my training leading up to the race, the long day on the course, and the post-race recovery. She's my DAMn Champion!! To read about more of Chris Nelson's bike adventures, check out the stories on his blog, "Bikes, Beer, and Other Stuff I Like".


    Ben and Marty started The Heywood Ride in recent years but haven't been able to actually host it until 2022 due to COVID precautions. Riders of the 2019 Almanzo event will recognize the routes and ethos of the event. I chatted with Ben and Marty to learn more about the idea and backstory of the event in this interview. The Heywood Ride is a totally free, pay-what-you-want event in Northfield Minnesota. Taking place on May 21, the ride has a 55-mile, 110-mile, 165-mile, and 380-mile route to cater to gravel cyclists of all interests ands abilities. Photos: Galen Murray @murraygd13 How long has The Heywood been around? This is actually the first year its been run as The Heywood. 2020 and 2021 were not run because of the Covid Quarantine and the rise of the Delta variant. Perhaps we could have run it in 2021, but neither of us wanted to be the reason that anyone got sick. We thought it prudent to just hold off until this year. In 2019, these loops were used as the Almanzo courses. Is The Heywood a continuation of Almanzo? Or is it some kind of distant cousin? Sort of. We are inspired by what Chris did in promoting cycling in general, and gravel specifically. We sat with Chris in late 2019 and talked about cycling events in general, and gravel specifically. Turns out we agreed that events like The Heywood should continue to happen. Events that have a low entry. Events that welcome all riders. New, old, experienced, round, rails, touring, WTF, Fatbikes. We don't care. All you really need to do is get yourself to town. If you can afford to pay, we provide opportunities to do that via PayPal. You had to car pool gas money to get here and will be digging for change for post ride beers? That's awesome!We're glad you came and experienced our roads. Your payment to us was having a great time! So in the end, we didn't buy the ride from Chris or anything like that. We did however have discussions about our philosophies of getting butts on bikes and they aligned well. Free Ride. Free Camping. Why is it Free? & Why Do You Put This On? Free as a bird. We want everyone to be able to ride. Cycling can be expensive. There are too many events out there that have raised the bar cost wise. Its intimidating. $160-$250 to enter a race? Sheesh! Having done that a couple times, the experience is good, but good lord those were expensive (but cheap ) t-shirts to come home with! So we made the decision to lower the barrier to ride to be as low as possible. Of course putting on rides like this aren't free. We still have to pay for things like insurance and port-o-johns! As such, we are accepting donations. The 'pay what you feel like your experience is worth' idea is a proven concept from bands like Radiohead and Wilco who have put albums out in the past with this concept. Ben has experience putting on the former Northfield Crits, and Marty has put on Cyclocross races in the past. This isn't necessarily new for either of us. Why here and now though? We've got some good roads around here, and Northfield could use a marquee event like this. The cycling scene here in town is truly blooming right now. The road scene has always been strong, and in the last ten years, the gravel scene has exploded. There multiple group rides in a week focused from the casual to fast guise to the fun havers and a WTF ride night that should get a lot of attention this year. The mountain biking is growing and getting better year by year. Why Northfield, Minnesota? Number one, we both believe in Northfield. This is Deep South Metro. The life here is good. We have great opportunities for entertainment. We have good food, excellent opportunities for family members that aren't riding, and for post ride entertainment, three excellent breweries, a distillery, and a cidery (check out our instagram guide for the details!). For the non-riders, we have parks to explore and shopping to do downtown. Finally, the riding we have here is better than many realize. We might not have massive climbs, or super challenging b-roads, but we do have some gorgeous roads around here. We also have an excellent partnership with the City of Northfield. The support they offer is outstanding. From leadout through the city, to offering Sechler Park as a campground. Camping normally isn't allowed, so there are not really any facilities. No fire rings or anything like that. But if you're following the trends and have a Camper van or rooftop tent, we've got you covered! If you're tenting it, you're welcome as well. Unfortunately, we don't have room for big rigs or trailers, so you'll have to find other spots for those. A 380-mile midnight ride sounds like madness. What's that ride like and how hard is it? 380 miles is real dumb. Marty has done The DaMN a couple times and found the midnight start....inspiring. But 242 miles is a good sight different than 380! Personally we haven't ridden it, but we would certainly like to tour it over a nice 3-day weekend some time! The Heywood Ride takes place on May 21, 2022 in Northfield, Minnesota. The event is totally free but donations are accepted. To learn more about the event or to make a donation of support, visit The Heywood Ride.


    Check out the latest video from Minnesota MTB on YouTube. Here he visits Duluth, Minnesota to ride the Piedmont trail system and encounters a little bit of sketch. From Minnesota MTB: Today's video we are back again in Duluth, MN. This day I first rode Hawk Ridge and Amity East and this video we ride the Piedmont trail system. These trails have much more variety and a lot more risky sections both in the summer and winter. And this ride I find my self second guessing my decision to ride on particular trail! Check out his YouTube channel for more.


    The best part of every ride, race, or route is the stories we share with each other afterward. We love hearing your stories of endurance, adventure, and even failure. You spent months planning for that big ride and we'd love to share your story with our readers. This is your bike adventure hub and YOUR STORIES are what make The Nxrth a community. During your next fat bike race, make sure to snap some photos or put together a video. As much as we love biking, we also love to hear what worked well (and didn't work well) for other riders and be a part of more adventures through stories, photos, and videos. Have a story to share? Send a message to josh at thenxrth dot com.


    Central and Northern Wisconsin is loaded with super great and untapped areas to bikepack. Over time, Shane Hitz has explored many areas of this region by bike and put together numerous routes that pass through many areas that can only be explored by bike. They go through some of his favorite small towns with great places to eat and fantastic camping opportunities. Contributed by: Shane Hitz The Tour de Nicolet bikepacking route winds through the national and county forests and alongside many rivers and streams and past many lakes. These bodies of water provide nice places to cool down and clean up after a dusty day in the saddle as well as being able to provide many opportunities to filter water so you don’t have to carry as much with you. Highlights on the route include Hill Billy Hilton, Crotch Vegas, Butler Rock, artesian well, MacArthur Pine, and the Wabeno museum of logging history. Numerous bars and restaurants along with a couple of gas stations make this route easy to do with bringing minimal food along. A must stop for food is Wabee Lodge and Roadhouse 139 and a must stop bar is Johnnies Resort. A plethora of camping opportunities throughout the route including some prime seldom used dispersed sites on rivers and lakes with great swimming holes as well as National Forest campgrounds. The best overnight place to park is Jack Lake but many other locations such as bars and gas stations would let you if you call and ask first. I did this route in a manageable five days. I would rate the route as a 3 out of 10 with the only really difficult section being miles 67 through 84 which is soft sand roads used primarily by ATV and 4X4 trucks. Shane Hitz is an adventure cyclist, route designer, and race director. You can read more about his adventures on his website. He is also the race director for the IRONBULL Red Granite Grinder, a gravel bike race in the Wausau, Wisconsin area. Disclaimer: If you choose to ride this route, you do so at your own risk. You are 100% responsible for being prepared for all conditions and making sure that biking these routes is legal. Before riding, check local weather, road conditions, closures, and property ownership. Obey all traffic laws and follow land use restrictions. Do not ride these routes without proper safety equipment and navigational tools. The accuracy of these routes cannot be guaranteed neither can we guarantee that these routes are on public property. and its contributors are in no way liable for the personal injury or damage to property that may result from cycling this route or any other routes on this website.

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